Cost fears as book festival hits attendance record

Michael Parkinson on stage during his event at the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival 2011 in Melrose in the Scottish Borders. 17/06/2011''Picture by Greg Macvean/Writer Pictures
Michael Parkinson on stage during his event at the Brewin Dolphin Borders Book Festival 2011 in Melrose in the Scottish Borders. 17/06/2011''Picture by Greg Macvean/Writer Pictures

DESPITE record ticket sales of 12,677, the eighth annual Borders Book Festival only just broke even.

Director Alistair Moffat admitted this week: “We need to rebudget the event to cope with the hugely increased audience numbers.

“In 2011, we only just managed without over-stretch and our staff have had no increase in their very modest fees since 2008 – this is simply not sustainable.”

Despite the financial pressure of staging the festival, he said that, though costs were rising sharply, ticket prices would not be increased.

“At £13, and £11 for concessions, to the main events in the festival marquee, we appreciate tickets are not cheap and, given the economic climate, we feel these cannot be raised next year,” he said. Mr Moffat said he was absolutely thrilled with the outurn figures, prepared by a local market research company, from this year’s festival which featured Michael Parkinson, Maureen Lipman and Tom Conti among its headliners.

Ticket sales surged by 23 per cent from last year’s figure of 10,288 which, in itself, was 22 per cent up on the 2009 event.

It is conservatively estimated that the total spend in the central Borders generated by the festival was £3.34million, compared with last year’s £2.7million.

The literary extravaganza, held over four days in June in the grounds of Harmony House, Melrose, is also bringing more and more people into the region, with 36 per cent of the audience this year coming from outwith the Borders, compared with 30 per cent in 2010.

And 19 per cent of those attending stay overnight – the average stay is three days.

The research reveals that the innovation of family day passes was a success, with 100 local families accessing events for £1 a head. The Schools Gala Day attracted 1,430 pupils from across the area’s primary schools – up 45 per cent on last year.

Mr Moffat commented: “Although the success of the event presents us with challenges, this really is a good news story for the Borders. While the demographic of our audience is heavily skewed to the over-55s, that average age of festival goers is coming down.

“It is that audience which, through word of mouth, is the strongest means of publicising the festival – and massively raising the profile of the Borders as a place to visit – even though our press and PR coverage went up 20 per cent with markedly more coverage in UK national outlets.”

The Duke of Buccleuch, who sponsors one of the event’s highlights – the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction – said: “We are delighted not only to sponsor what has established itself as major national literary award, but also be part of the wonderful Borders Book Festival.

“It has become a jewel in the Borders’ crown: an immensely prestigious and precious event and one that generates tremendous benefits for the local economy.”